2019 has been a high-on-quality, low-on-quantity sort of year, but don’t worry: Fall’s extensive array of titles shows is well on its way to making up for lost time.
The team split up the reviews between staff volunteers, with one person putting together a short(…ish) review on each series. Like we do with our check-in podcasts, we started from the bottom of our Premiere Digest list and worked our way up.
If we didn’t watch a show for at least three episodes, we skipped it, and we’ve used nice bold headers to help you quickly jump to the shows you’re interested in. Unless specifically noted, we’re only discussing the first three episodes, even if a show has released more than that.
We don’t have the time to keep up with everything, so please let us know about any gems we might be missing in the comments!
ORESUKI Are You the Only One Who Loves Me?
Content Warnings: Depictions of stalking, misogyny, emotional manipulation, and people just generally being awful to each other.
Chiaki: ORESUKI kicked things off with its protagonist diving headfirst into incel territory after two girls professed their love for his best friend and a stalker blackmailed him for attention. Hitting rock bottom in the first episode somewhat helps a show in the grand scheme of things, because the next two episodes turned out marginally better (by the simple fact Joro isn’t as outright awful).
Keeping with the running gag that both Himawari and Cosmos fell in love with Sun-chan following the regional tournament, Sun-chan confesses he fell in love with Pansy (Joro’s stalker) after meeting her at the game, and Pansy also reveals she fell in love with Joro that day for his display of BFF love toward Sun-chan. Everything is a mess and all the emotional turmoil and tension that normally comes to a head in a full cour of anime comes to pass in just three episodes.
Everyone, it turns out, is awful. The girls knowingly used Joro; Sun-Chan also relied on Joro’s lack of self-awareness to play the girls against him; and Pansy played chessmaster against the full cast to clear Joro’s name. And although Joro did clear his name, he still did hope for sloppy seconds in trying to set up the girls with Sun-Chan, so he’s hardly free of sin.
So that’s it folks. Story’s over. With that emotional rollercoaster finished, the show now likely sets sail toward typical harem love comedy. What’s even the point from here? If you’re morbidly curious how these three episodes go but have no interest in watching the rest of the cour, try watching “The Finale” of Seinfeld.
Kemono Michi: Rise Up
Content Warnings: Assault treated as a joke; fanservice.
Vrai: Like Genzo, I too have a personal creed: if a comedy I’m watching insists on making an ugly, downward-punching joke, it better pull out three things that are either inclusive, incisive, or stupendously weird. While Kemono Michi hasn’t fallen off a cliff since its premiere, it has settled into a disappointing averageness that make the flaws I was willing to tolerate before a lot more noticeable.
The wrestling jokes remain the height of the series, including an inspired bit in episode 3 where Genzo and dragon child Hanako are extremely convinced nobody will recognize them with masks on (and they’re right). The core cast that make up the shop are also pretty likable, even when the jokes start to get tired. But the audaciousness of the premiere is long gone, with Genzo’s wrestling moves coming out for the same four jokes and the suplex very noticeably showcasing a double-standard for male versus female characters vis a vis fanservice.
Rather than ramping up in a consensual way, the queer undertones of the premiere are also pretty much gone, unless you count what is determined to become a running “joke” of the wolfman who got sexually assaulted in the premiere being traumatized every time he sees his attacker. Meanwhile, jokes about Genzo being the creepy local underwear pervert haven’t evolved in any particular way, unless you count the exhaustingly common “mistaken for a child molester” bit when Hanako is introduced.
Often these are small moments scattered across an episode that’s otherwise pleasant and occasionally very funny. But it’s getting to the point where turning on an episode leaves me more wary than excited, and that’s just not something I have time for.
Kandagawa Jet Girls
Content Warnings: Lots and lots of fanservice.
Vrai: Well, I’m still watching it.
I absolutely cannot recommend Jet Girls on the basis of any feminist analysis. The show does take its racing content more seriously than I was expecting, with some actual stakes and building tension beyond “who’s going to lose their top.” But that is a subterranean bar and I am not a studied viewer of sports, real or animated.
I’m also pleasantly surprised to note that besides that butt shot I mentioned in episode one, this relentless jigglefest has been totally free of boob comparison scenes, humiliation-driven fanservice, and “friendly” groping. It’s also shipteasing the two leads so hard that it’s halfway convinced me it’s going to go somewhere with it, though I know in my cynical critic’s heart that it will not.
Maybe I’m just a little bit charmed by its silliness, which I’m forced to call “self-aware” following a scene where they have three close-up shots of boobs vibrating while passing trains shake the room. It’s utter nonsense, but in the kind of toothless and lighthearted way that drew people to Keijo!!!!!!!!.
There is the uncomfortable fact that the characters are still in high school. The character designs’ total lack of differentiation between its “adult” characters and its main cast, along with the story’s total disconnect from real-world logic, help soften this fact; but for some it’ll be an understandable dealbreaker even if the other factors are not.
I’m pretty sure I’m not recommending this show… but I am going to keep watching it, at least until the day it takes a turn down the same unpleasant path as so many horny sports anime past.
High School Prodigies Have it Easy Even in Another World
Content Warnings: Depictions of slavery; sexualization of children; fanservice; grievous overuse of an egg-based condiment.
Okay, let’s be real here. This show started off blandly and its only real claim to fame has been Japanese mayonnaise and isekai Abe Shinzo getting fed like a baby chick. As the series continues, the larger cast has had more of an opportunity to do things on the screen. However, only Masato “The Merchant” Sanada got much primetime aside from Abe, putting two boys at the helm of a show where four of its seven leads are girls. The other prodigies are largely still relegated to one-liners.
As for villains and challenges, the prodigies truly have it easy. The merchant could have faced a genuine challenge as he tried to secure supplies for the village of beast people, but the antagonists in High School Prodigies have thus far posed little resistance because of their short-sightedness and buffoonish villainy.
Mr. Capitalist has also found himself an ambitious student: Rooko, a waifish catgirl whose eyes are brimming with greed. High School Prodigies, in its dedication to making mayonnaise A Thing, has made young Rooko a mayonnaise aficionado as well, depicting her messily eating cucumber and mayo until she is stuffed. It looks as uncomfortably sexual as it sounds.
Keeping in tradition with slavery in isekai stories, Rooko is also revealed to be a runaway slave. Though Sanada buys her off the slavers without the explicit intent of keeping her as a slave, there is a vague sense of ambiguity that the walking embodiment of capitalism may have purchased her based on her utility as a merchant first and foremost. The scene seemed unnecessary and left a bad taste in my mouth.
In short, High School Prodigies is a trainwreck. I can’t look away, but I’d also be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone.
Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?
Content Warning: Pedophilia played for laughs; mild fanservice (mostly in the form of cliche boob jokes).
Vrai: What a disappointment this turned out to be. I tried my hardest to give the show a fresh start with its second episode. The meta-jokes are somewhat stale and the leads archetypal, but I enjoyed their dynamic and the core conceit of these girls building one another up on their adventures.
But every time I began to settle into its charms, Average Isekai would aim a sucker punch directly at my teeth with another boob joke (y’all know it’s pretty common for a twelve-year-old not to have much breast tissue, right? Average, even?) or another cursed appearance of The Pedophile Who Will Not Die. The latter is particularly galling given that, in my understanding, the whole subplot is a completely anime-original addition that sucks the life out of every single scene it touches.
The third episode seems to end with that book firmly closed, but here’s the thing: the show no longer has my trust. There’s no guarantee that she won’t come back again like some hellish, unlovable version of Team Rocket. Or, even if she doesn’t, there’s no guarantee the anime writers won’t dream up something else equally grating or tasteless. And while the rest of the show so far has been perfectly enjoyable, it’s not worth the emotional investment of waiting on stabbing, parasitic tenterhooks every episode.
For those intrigued, the light novel source material has been licensed by Seven Seas. From what I’ve heard, it seems like a far less exhausting bet.
NO GUNS LIFE
Content Warnings: Depictions of violence against kids/teens, physical abuse, ableism, and human experimentation (not graphically shown and condemned by the narrative); mild fanservice of adults.
Dee: Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone enjoys campy-yet-sincere genre send-ups. Not everyone will be little-kid-on-Christmas levels of delighted about a man with a gun for a head taking a long drag from a cigarette and rasping lines like “There are only two things I can’t handle: humidity and children” with a straight face.
Not everyone likes hardboiled detective stories or cyberpunk, and definitely not everybody likes seeing the two genres smashed together with nerdy glee. “Dashiell Hammett meets William Gibson with a splash of Jim Butcher” is not going to be everybody’s glass of whiskey, especially when you toss in some mild Anime Bullshit like fanservicey outfits and “eek, you pervert!” slapstick.
But I am not “everybody.” I am only myself. And y’all: I freakin’ love NO GUNS LIFE.
The thing is, amidst all the Genre-Tropes-Cranked-to-11 goodness, this is also a desperately earnest story doing what the most effective hardboiled and cyberpunk stories do: trying to find ways for human compassion and community to survive in a callous, corrupted world.
Corporations and organized criminals take advantage of disabled people—especially kids—by offering them cybernetic body parts that wear away at their physical and mental well-being. Our protagonist Juuzo, an “over-extended” soldier callously tossed aside after the war, adopts Tetsuro, a badly injured teen fleeing human experimentation. The pair receive aid from Mary, a weary engineer who does her best to help those in need. And so on.
It all sounds suffocatingly bleak, but somehow it isn’t. By focusing on the story’s warmest elements (Juuzo’s gruff kindness, Tetsuro’s frantic desire to help others, the emotional connections between various characters), as well as its genre silliness, NO GUNS LIFE remains defiantly hopeful and never devolves into grimdark suffering porn.
It can be so entertaining, in fact, that it’s easy to lose sight of all the loaded metaphors and social critiques—which could become a glaring problem, depending on how the story proceeds. But for now, I’m both fascinated by its anti-capitalist undercurrents and having a damn good time. Bring on the next episode.
Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
Content Considerations: Fanservice-oriented costumes; sexualization of characters who appear to be minors.
Caitlin: God bless seeing new sides to beloved asshole characters.
So far, Babylonia has almost-perfectly lived up to my expectations. It has many of the best parts of historical fantasy: legendary figures imbued with life that dry history texts can’t match, and a real sense for how people lived. Uruk positively teems with life, realized through beautiful, bright animation.
Ritsuka and Mash aren’t exactly the most engaging characters, but they don’t really need to be. They’re modern audience stand-ins there to facilitate the plot. That mantle is taken up mostly by the characters around them: Leonidas (in a fictionalized version I much prefer to the one in Frank Miller’s 300); Ushiwakamaru (reimagined, of course, as a teenage girl); Benkei; a mysterious Servant named Ana; and, of course, Merlin. That’s right, we get not one, but two legendary assholes. It’s so much fun.
And, just as I hoped, we get to see Gilgamesh in an entirely different light from the original Fate/stay night stories. This is Gilgamesh in his element: sitting on a throne, making important decisions for his city and running the show. He rebuffs Ritsuka and Mash’s plea for the Grail at first, but then assigns them mundane tasks to earn his favor. There’s a real sense that Gilgamesh isn’t rejecting them because he doesn’t think they’re capable; he rejects them because they don’t know anything about his city and his people. Turns out, he’s actually an intelligent, capable ruler.
He is still an asshole though. It’s great.
One thing that hasn’t changed, and won’t change, is the female character designs. There’s not a ton of fanservice—mostly an upskirt shot here and there, annoying and obtrusive but forgivable—but man are the costumes ridiculous. Merlin looks great, Gilgamesh looks great, Benkei looks fine, Leonidas looks… well… it’s a lot. But Ushiwakamaru, poor thing, looks like she forgot to put on her shirt and pants when she got dressed this morning! How embarrassing!
Babylonia carries a fair bit of baggage from the game, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Cautious Hero: The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious
Content Warnings: Fanservice; children in peril; bullying played for comedy.
Caitlin: In my premiere review, I remarked on how the physical comedy and character acting set Cautious Hero apart, but mused at how the gimmick ran the risk of wearing thin. As of episode three, the show better find a new source of comedy or it runs the risk of being dropped.
Much of the second episode is devoted to a Serious Battle, with Seiya fighting against Chaos Machina, one of the four demon lords. She has a great name, and considering how she changes form as she powers up during the battle, I can see the practical reasons for an outfit that basically just covers her genitals and nipples. However, there’s no excuse for just how boring that sequence was. It was mostly Chaos Machina posturing and powering up repeatedly, while Rista stands back and checks her stats until Seiya blows her away.
“Ah,” I thought. “The action in this show is dull, but as long as the comedy is funny, I can look past that.”
I don’t know exactly why I felt so much less engaged with the third episode, but I didn’t laugh once. Seiya has gone from brusque to a raging asshole, bullying a god who volunteered to train him to the point where the god is hiding from him so he doesn’t get repeatedly punched in the face. There’s comical assholes and then there’s just assholes, and this tips into the latter so far that not even Rista’s reactions can salvage it.
The biggest change at this point is that two of the characters from the opening theme, Mash and Elulu, have been introduced. They haven’t done much so far, but I’m hoping they can breathe new life into this flagging show.
Content Warnings: Depictions of suicide; the only primary female character is thus far depicted as a duplicitous monster sending men to their doom.
Vrai: When I wrote the premiere review, I mentioned that Babylon’s writer was also involved with KADO: The Right Answer, a hot mess I remain rather fond of. Let’s just say that the comparison hasn’t gotten any less relevant since I watched the next two episodes. Babylon wants to take on big, weighty issues: whether the ends justify the means in creating a utopia; the role of the justice system; and, in its most recent episode, whether human beings should have the right to choose to die.
The last is a thorny issue, even as an American viewer, and I don’t doubt that there are additional layers of complexity for a Japanese audience. There definitely should be more media that talks about death in earnest, unafraid terms… but Caitlin Doughty, this is not. Watching episode three, I more got the feeling that the show wanted me to be taken aback that it was asking such shocking questions, such bold revelations. A bit more Joker than given, if you feel me.
Or maybe it’s just harder for me to credit the show with earnestness when a scene of mass suicide is accompanied by a revelation that its mysterious female character is also its only female character. Literally. The show’s femme fatale has been shapeshifting into every woman we’ve seen so far and controlling things from behind the scenes. That paper covered in “f”s in the premiere? They stand for (dun dun dun!) “female.”
Which is, on the one hand, very funny in its overwroughtness (to me, at least). And on the other, hoo boy the misogynistic underpinnings loaded into that there narrative choice, especially if the show fails to introduce a new female character with agency into the story.
Having said all that, I meant what I said in the premiere review. I’m in it for this rollercoaster. This writer has a taste for poking at Big Ideas in a way I don’t see often, even if the execution ends up crumbling by the end. And so far, the twist-happy format and quite lovely direction has continued to keep me entertained. So bring it on, Babylon. Let’s see if you can actually shock me next time.
Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun
Vrai: “Reliably soothing” is a trait I’ve come to appreciate in anime over the years, which is probably a sign that I’m getting old or just that the world is on fire.
Iruma-kun doesn’t have an overabundance of ambition—its plots borrow plenty from well-worn school tropes and Harry Potter in particular, with a few hints of an anime-fied take on the Lesser Key of Solomon. But it executes its stories with enthusiasm and a kind of energy that, while definitely targeting a middle school audience, feels accessible to everyone.
There are hints of dark machinations behind the scenes and the occasional subtly bleak joke that would likely go over a younger viewer’s head (Iruma has a bottomless appetite because he needs to “eat while he can,” which squares both with his fear that the demons will eat him and his upbringing in an abusive household). The writing never feels in danger of wallowing in or exploiting those elements, though.
Episode 3 marks the first time the series has spotlighted its female cast, introducing the exuberant Clara. There’s an edge of infantilization to how she’s written, but it feels less out-of-place in a story made for children, free of fanservice, and with at least three other prominent female characters yet to be introduced. Her introductory plot about feeling like she has to bribe others to “put up with her” may also ring true to those who grew up neurodivergent.
It’s not my favorite of the season (that’s easily Stars Align), but this is a show I look forward to relaxing with every week, and I’ll definitely be sticking with these good kids to the end.
Special 7: Special Crime Unit Investigation
Dee: Near as I can tell, I’m the only person watching this show, so I can say pretty much anything I want in this review and it doesn’t matter ‘cause nobody’s gonna read it. Butts. Mayonnaise.
Anyway, I’m growing kinda fond of Special 7. It has a pleasantly slick art style, a likable cast, and it hasn’t done anything to make me roll my eyes or cringe. It’s not exactly bursting with originality, but there are enough charming or unique touches (like the matter-of-fact way supernatural elements are integrated within the world) to keep it feeling fresh.
Also, I think it might be kind of silly? Episode 3 ends with the team disrupting a magic circle by shooting it with a gun, which got a full round of giggles and applause out of me.
Special 7’s biggest weakness is that the execution is weirdly relaxed for a show where the plots involve saving hostages and disarming magic bombs. The direction, acting, and script are by no means bad, but they all feel a bit muted compared to the events happening on-screen. The show’s comedy beats suffer the same issue, resulting in a series that hovers between tension and humor but never excels at either.
Still, I find myself low-key looking forward to the next episode. This likely won’t be a top pick this season, but if you’ve got an open slot on your watch list, you could do a lot worse than spending 22 minutes a week with the Magic PD.
Outburst Dreamer Boys
DEE: It’s been a couple seasons since we’ve had an otome anime I could holler about. And while Outburst Dreamer Boys may not technically be an otome adaptation, it so solidly fits the subgenre’s model that I’m gonna holler about it anyway.
Dreamer Boys continues to mine good goofs from a cast of well-meaning doofuses as it gradually develops and expands its cast. Aside from its energetic animation and spot-on comedic timing, what’s endeared me the most is how Dreamer Boys presents these larger-than-life caricatures and then zeroes in on a grounded, sometimes painfully relatable detail, ensuring that even the most absurd members of the cast come across as sympathetic kids, not just clowns.
(Or as Vrai, feeling very called-out, put it: “Listen, LISTEN. Who among us didn’t draw a shitty power fantasy comic of ourselves as teenagers and hide it under our mattresses. WHO AMONG US.”)
If I had any criticisms, it would be that Mizuki often falls into the “passive self-insert heroine” role, as she spends a lot of time reacting to the boys’ antics. That said, episode 3 made a point of having her choose to join the guys’ latest quest and also strongly hinted that Mizuki actually does have awakening superpowers. A lot of otome-style stories involve a passive/reactive heroine gradually gaining agency and power. It’s very possible Dreamer Boys is following this model as well, so I’m withholding judgment until I see more.
And rest assured I will be sticking around for more. Dreamer Boys has thus far been a delightfully silly, warmhearted comedy that knows how to poke fun at adolescence without being mean-spirited about it. I’m more than happy to keep hanging out with it.
Content Warning: Strong indications of a future teacher-student romance.
Chiaki: I was worried about how Assassins Pride would handle Melida, but she turns out to be quite a powerful heroine once infused with mana. She wins her own battles, at least up through the end of the third episode before Kufa comes in to shine. Our heroine proves she is a true force to be reckoned with, surprising even Kufa with her astute ability to learn and adapt during battle.
However, as Melida proves herself to be a formidable heroine, the show also doubles down on the level of intimacy she shares with her instructor. Kufa has pledged his life to helping his liege prove she has what it takes to take the helm of her family, going as far as to note he “WILL nurture that girl.” Meanwhile, Melida looks up to Kufa in adulation, pledging she will become a woman worthy to stand beside him. All the while, Kufa has become intimately acquainted with Melida’s body (for the sake of her health). Assassins Pride is signalling quite loudly that the teen girl and her adult tutor are gearing up to become an item.
Tutor-student relationship dynamics aside, Assassins Pride continues to introduce an interesting world. Lancanthropes appear to be more than mindless monsters; there’s an edgy assassin who speaks in magical subtitles; and Kufa’s rival tutor is an accomplished warrior with an attitude. Though by no means perfect, I’m having fun with this show.
Content Warnings: Depictions of bullying; emotional and physical abuse.
Caitlin: I said it before, I’m saying it again: Stars Align is the best new series of the season, easily.
I wasn’t totally right on every front. I’m pretty sure I called the soft tennis club “sweet boys” and now I’m not so sure. Some of them are sweet; Rintarou and Taiyou have been unfailingly kind to Maki so far, and I have a soft spot for Nao, who stares into space all the time and seems to be a compulsive liar. But others see Maki as someone they can shove to the bottom of the pecking order, to wield power over when their own club has so little power in the greater school system. They may have good hearts, but these kids are middle schoolers, and middle school is infamously one of the nastiest periods of adolescence.
Akane Kazuki’s script and direction walk a careful line, depicting the kids’ fundamental goodness and adolescent moodiness in a way that feels consistent and cohesive as we get to know them better. Maki may be brusque, even rude to his clubmates, but intervenes when he sees a schoolmate being bullied for being gay, and even convinces him to become the club manager in a way that doesn’t come across as condescending. When a bully taunts one of the club members so badly that he hits him on the head with a racket, everyone tells the boy to maybe not use a racket next time.
Even with nuanced writing, there’s a lot of sports series cliches that Stars Align could indulge in, but instead neatly sidesteps them. There is, so far, one major female character outside of the parents, but she isn’t the team manager or The Girl for all the boys to get worked up over. She’s actually kind of a gremlin, drawing art of pretty girls in a dark room with her hoodie on and mocking her fans for getting worked up over thigh highs. There’s no speeches about how “We’re not good now but we have a lot of potential if we can learn to work together with our burning spirit!” They suck at tennis because they never even tried, and getting even to a baseline level of good means giving a shit, which is difficult.
There’s also a heavy content warning for depictions of parental abuse. Maki isn’t the only one dealing with a parent who hurts him. Toma’s mother may be emotionally abusive, and there are others as well. The series is honest about just how difficult it can be to escape an abuser, even when you’re trying. Everything is handled respectfully, but it can still be a difficult watch.
Overall, Stars Align is a perfect showcase for its showrunner’s talents, tackling difficult subjects with nuance and compassion. If you can handle the content warnings, it’s definitely worth your time.
Ascendance of a Bookworm
Vrai: Bookworm feels like a return to what made isekai in the ’90s so special. We know from the framing device in the first episode that Main will succeed in changing society, but since then the show has settled comfortably into lovingly exploring the hard work of everyday life, particularly the kind of work derided as worthless because it’s “feminine.”
As someone with a partner who sews and crafts, it’s incredibly heartening to see this show respect the hard work that goes into those things and how important “woman’s work” is to improving life for all genders. Because Main has to struggle to get the simplest things, the show sets up a sense of near-awe for what human hands can make. At the same time, while this society has fairly normative assumptions about men and women’s work based on which parent trains them, nobody bats an eye when Main declares she doesn’t want to be a seamstress.
Similarly, Main doesn’t sneer at her new family as “primitive” even though she’s coming in with modern knowledge. The writing takes time to establish their familial bonds as important rather than using them as a jumping-off point for Main to achieve her goals. It’s a slow burn that won’t work for everyone, but it’s rewarding to watch and energized by Main’s exuberant inner monologue.
The only thing I remain unsure of is how I’m supposed to read Main’s emotional intelligence. Some scenes are clearly meant to play off her inexperience as someone who was isolated in her past life or make it seem as though she’s emotionally a child despite having adult memories. But in other scenes, she’s able to read the room in a way a kid wouldn’t or emotionally manipulate an adult into doing what she wants in a way that reads as, if not adult, more akin to something like Detective Conan. But still, it’s not quite settled one way or the other.
It only really matters when the show jokes around with romance, and even then not much. It’s mentioned that one of the boys in the neighborhood has a crush on Main but it hasn’t come to anything except one short moment of awkwardness, and her dad’s jealousy that Main is attached to his coworker who’s teaching her to read is clearly played as a silly misunderstanding. Personally, I’m hoping the show stays away from romance altogether, but there are enough ways it could clarify the situation that it’s far from a prominent concern—especially when it’s handling everything else so beautifully.
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